Sometimes playful: Mark Morris Dance Group.
and Comedy Tonight
Mark Morris Dance Group
Egg, Nov. 16
There is nothing uncomfortable about the Mark Morris Dance
Group. They are as versatile and appropriate as clean linens,
sensible shoes or a black cocktail dress. With its reputation
for playful humor and live musical accompaniment, the company
returned to the Egg on Friday night providing an experience
that was delightfully appealing to all the senses.
Friday evening’s performance opened with The Argument,
showcasing three mature couples in various stages of romantic
drama. Predictable evening attire of knee-length black velvet
dresses and crisp collared shirts and slacks seemed initially
uninteresting. That is, until the first strike of discontent,
brought on by a clenched fist. As the movement shifted between
fluid waltz and panicked tango, one seemed to be observing
the anxiety and perfectionism behind the pearls and crystal
of an overheated dinner party.
The three male dancers were rather aloof and secondary to
the more complex and striking qualities of their partners.
Julie Worden rose above the other dancers both in her statuesque
frame and the ferocity of her limps and deliberate glare.
Less physically impressive was Maile Okamura, whose more subtle
charm was contradicted by quick and defensive arm gestures
with her partner Craig Biesecker. Michelle Yard added gravity
and continuity to the piece with a more moderate interpretation
of emotional angst.
Viewers were again taken behind the scenes with the full-ensemble
piece Looky, in which Morris showcased a visual narrative
of sterile museum culture and its quirky patrons. Individuals,
couples and an apparent tour group emerged dressed in mismatched
outfits with black-and-white patterns designed by Isaac Mizrahi.
The disorderliness of the crowd was echoed by a recorded track
of disklavier music—rambling piano scales and uncoordinated
rhythms drawn from a digital player piano.
The dancers first observe art, then imitate art and finally
become art, as they reenacted what the audience assumes is
one of the paintings displayed in the museum. Morris brought
to life a typical western-style saloon scene, complete with
drunken cowboys and a poker game that ends in slow-motion
bar fight. The sheer entertainment and chaotic improvisation
of the piece brings to mind the exaggerated theatrics of a
1920s vaudeville act, with the uncertain distinction between
tragedy and comedy, villain and hero.
With relief, the performance returned to a controlled reality
with a more linear piece set to Bach’s Italian Concerto
in F-major. A duet of Dallas McMurray and Julie Worden
opened the piece, introducing sleek elongated movements reminiscent
of George Balanchine’s Four Temperaments. However,
the connection to one of Morris’ mentors ended with a series
of humorous gestures that appear suddenly amid the sobriety
of the piece.
Two dancers stood side by side, knees bent with arms outstretched,
as if resting comfortably on a table. Robotic mime movement
suggested each dancer reaching for a book on a high shelf,
manually lifting the extended elbow with the opposite hand
only to abandon the object and lazily sweep both hands across
one hip. While Morris is noted for being extremely witty himself,
he admits that laughter is often drawn from the audience in
places where it wasn’t necessarily intended.
The humor of the first pieces gave way to the dramatic closing
epic, Grande Duo (1993). Dancers in satin costumes
in deep shades of green, mahogany and teal were cast in shadows
across the dimly lit stage. A horizontal panel of light illuminated
the two outstretched fingers of each dancer, which bent and
waved as if desperately determining the direction of the wind.
While much of the piece was performed in unison, the gathering
of heaving bodies separated into two distinct groups, enacting
what seemed to be a medieval battle. Through a call and response
of violent gestures, the two clans mirrored each other as
each reflected their own grievances. An extremely satisfying
resolution was achieved with dancers’ limbs coordinated in
a circle of praise or mourning—with the audience left to decide